How Kanye West Helped to Embolden Anti-Semites on College Campuses

How Kanye West Helped to Embolden Anti-Semites on College Campuses

How Kanye West Helped to Embolden Anti-Semites on College Campuses

The ADL recently tracked around 30 cases of anti-Semitic harassment, vandalism, and banner drops that directly reference Ye, many of which took place at high schools and universities.

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In 2020, musician and fashion designer Kanye West—now known as Ye—announced his candidacy for president. The West campaign was defined by consistent use of Christian nationalist language, with policy proposals ranging from “restoring prayer in the classroom,” to supporting “faith-based groups” and turning the United States into a “new Garden of Eden.” West performed poorly. He received around 60,000 votes while appearing on the ballot in only 12 states.

Despite this meager turnout, the West campaign left a mark on the political ecosystem and connected the musician with numerous Republican operatives. Just one day after the 2020 election, he began teasing another run in 2024. But after tweeting that he planned to go “death con 3” on Jewish people in October—and getting suspended on social media because of it—West went on an unhinged, anti-Semitic tirade on Alex Jones’s Infowars. Since then, the Anti-Defamation League has documented around 30 cases of anti-Semitic harassment, vandalism, and banner drops that “directly reference” Ye, many of which took place at high schools and college campuses.

With the help of young white supremacist Nick Fuentes, West has quickly built a following of Gen Z anti-Semites, white nationalists, and neo-fascists. After being kicked out of the Conservative Political Action Conference earlier this month, Fuentes said that “Talmudic Jews,” a white supremacist term for Jewish people, “gotta go.” Students For Ye, a youth activist group created—in name, at least—to support Kanye West’s run for president in 2024 was established in December. The group’s Twitter account boasts the support of “over 1,000 students.” “What America needs now can never be delivered by DC swamp creature consultants and grifting t-shirt salesmen,” the account posted in January. “Our nation can only be healed by a man who serves Christ.”

Anti-Semitism has taken hold of American life to an extent not seen in the modern era. In 2021, anti-Semitic incidents reached a record high, with 2,717 examples of assault, harassment, and vandalism, according to an audit by the Anti-Defamation League. Students for Ye is only the latest incarnation of this trend. The ADL report from February directly linked increased anti-Semitism online with vandalism and harassment in reality. “These incidents—only some of which are perpetrated by known extremists—demonstrate how references to Ye, often paired with swastikas or other antisemitic slurs, have become mainstream shorthand for the hatred of—or a desire to commit violence against—Jewish people.”

Students for Ye was founded by Daniel Schmidt. A sophomore at the University of Chicago, Schmidt spent years trying to carve out a niche in the right-wing media space, and he finally found an opportunity with Students for Ye. Justin Horowitz, a researcher for Media Matters, wrote about Schmidt and Students for Ye in December, describing the group as a vessel for Schmidt’s personal ambitions. “Schmidt is using it to leverage his own political career.” The group’s most active social media account hyped the work of its chapter at the University of Florida. But outside of their online presence, there was no evidence of the chapter’s existence. When contacted by The Nation, the University of Florida said that no organization by that name was registered with the school. Since then, UF Students for Ye’s Twitter page has been deleted or removed.

The actions by Students For Ye seem to be purely for provocation. In January “Ye is Right” chalkings were found at the University of Alabama. Though scrawled by an affiliated group, Students for Ye directed its followers to “leave love comments” on the Instagram account of a university club that denounced the racist vandalism. Similarly, “Ye Is Right,” a show (which has since been removed) on the Peter Thiel–backed video platform Rumble recorded livestreams on several Florida campuses, including University of Florida and Florida International University, outraging students with anti-Semitic rhetoric. In both cases, most attendees were counterprotesters. “Our goal is to demonstrate to students that fascist views won’t go unchallenged and that socialists will defend our most vulnerable populations, which promotes our efforts to the broader student body,” said Oscar Alvarez, political education chair of the Young Democratic Socialists of America chapter at Florida International University.

While Students For Ye and similar groups haven’t received a warm welcome on campus, Schmidt has, predictably, been embraced by elements of the right. According to Ali Breland, a reporter for Mother Jones, far-right Gen-Z activists are using prominent conservative groups as a strategy for growth. Last October, the Tennessee branch of the Eagle Forum—a conservative interest group founded in 1972—hosted Schmidt as a keynote speaker. Schmidt’s speech was titled “Time to Fight Anti-White Racism on Campus.” Tucker Carlson granted him an interview over the summer, where he used the venue to condemn secular society, saying it “obviously doesn’t work.” Schmidt has praised Carlson for his “simple yet incredibly crisp way of thought,” paleoconservative Pat Buchanan for his “pragmatic and prophetic works,” and Andrew Breitbart’s “brave and insubordinate approach to journalism.” All three played a role in building the Republican cultural milieu that created Schmidt.

When Ye Is Right arrived on campus, the University of Florida’s Hillel held demonstrations, playing music and passing out educational materials to the crowd. “We needed to make sure all students knew this anti-Semitic hate speech is not reflective of our values,” said Rabbi Jonah Zinn, executive director of the University of Florida’s Hillel. Almost immediately, UF Hillel’s social media was “inundated with hateful comments.” Zinn views what’s happening on college campuses as merely “reflective of broader social trends.”

Although anti-Semitism may be increasing, Zinn still believes these views are anathema to the American public. “The vast majority of people are appalled.” In Zinn’s view, the only way to counteract the fascist right is by connecting with individuals who understand the danger of its views, and making its abnormality clearer to the public. “It’s important that we stand together, as people of conscience.”

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